07312014Thu

Iran criticizes Turkish request for Patriots

The Associated Press

By BASSEM MROUE

BEIRUT (AP) — Iran lashed out Friday at Turkey for requesting that NATO supply it with Patriot surface-to-air missiles to deploy along the border with Syria, denouncing the step by Ankara as counterproductive.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani made the remarks after a visit to Damascus, a show of support by Tehran to its increasingly diplomatically isolated ally.

"The internal crisis in Syria cannot be solved through the deployment of such weapons," Larijani, who is close to the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, said at a news conference in Beirut where he went after leaving Syria.

Turkey's request earlier this week follows several incidents in which violence has spilled across the border from the civil war in Syria, frequently mortar rounds falling a short distance inside. Patriots would be useful in intercepting ballistic missiles — a much more serious but still hypothetical threat.

NATO said Wednesday it will consider the request "without delay."

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also criticized the Turkish move, calling it "a new provocative step."

Larijani, who met Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus earlier Friday, said Iran was seeking a peaceful solution to the war in Syria.

"The difference between us and the others when it comes to Syria is that the others want to impose democracy through weapons," he said. "Iran cannot accept or support such a way."

"I don't think democracy can be achieved through rocket propelled grenades," he added.

Iran is Assad's strongest ally in the region, and anti-government activists accuse Tehran of sending both weapons and fighters to Syria.

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with an uprising against Assad's regime, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts, but quickly morphed into a civil war that has since killed more than 40,000 people, according to activists.

In violence around Syria Friday, Islamic extremists, including members of the al-Qaida-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra group, battled with pro-government Kurdish gunmen in the northern town of Ras al-Ayan near the border with Turkey, activists said.

Kurdish activist Mustafa Osso and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had no reports of casualties

The Islamic militants entered the town earlier this month and have since clashed almost daily with the Kurdish gunmen. Both factions add to the complexity of Syria's conflict.

When government forces withdrew from Kurdish areas in northeastern Syria in July, they were quickly replaced by Kurdish fighters from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, who would then battle rebels when they pushed their way into predominantly Kurdish areas. The Kurdish group is affiliated with the PKK, rebels fighting for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast region of Turkey.

The Islamic militants, who are fighting on the side of the rebels, have played a bigger role in the Syrian conflict in recent months and many openly say they want to set up an Islamic state. The opposition is split, with some groups strongly opposed to the influence of extremists.

In Damascus, regime forces shelled the neighborhoods of Tadamon and Hajar Aswad, where rebels and government troops have clashed for weeks, and also raided the central Damascus neighborhood of Bab Sreijeh, arresting several people there, said the Observatory.

In the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, activists said a bomb blast killed four people and seriously wounded a member of a faction that has backed Assad in the country's bitter civil war.

The explosion late Thursday was a bomb placed under the car of a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Palestinian group said. It blamed the rebel Free Syrian Army for the attack.

Yarmouk has been pulled into Syria's fighting before, most recently earlier this month when clashes in and around the camp killed and wounded dozens.

When the unrest began, the country's half million Palestinians struggled to stay on the sidelines. But in recent months, many have started supporting the uprising although they insisted the opposition to the regime should be peaceful. Others, like the PFLP-GC, stood by Assad. Earlier this month, the PFLP-GC clashed with anti-government Palestinian gunmen in Yarmouk.

Before meeting with Assad, Larijani met with leaders of the PFLP-GC and other pro-Assad Palestinian groups and discussed the latest Israeli-Hamas spasm of violence in Gaza that ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce on Wednesday. He pledged more Iranian assistance to Palestinians there, said Khaled Abdul-Majid, a Damascus-based Palestinian official who attended the meeting.

Speaking in Lebanon a few hours later, Larijani congratulated the Palestinian people for their "victory" in Gaza which he described as a "tsunami" against Israel.

Elsewhere, the Observatory said the body of Syrian novelist Mohammed Rashid Roweily was found late Thursday in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, nearly two months after he was kidnapped.

State TV said Roweily was "liquidated by terrorists" — a term the government uses for the rebels. Syrian authorities deny there is a popular uprising in the country and say the rebels are backed by foreign powers that seek to destroy the country.

Ruwiely, 65, was once the representative of Arab Writers' Union in Deir el-Zour and had written several novels. The Observatory said his decomposed body was found along with those of four others, including a retired army officer. All were kidnapped around the same time.

Journalist Bassil Toufic Youssef, who worked for state TV, was shot dead outside his house in the capital on Thursday, the state SANA news agency said.

In other developments, Qatar, which has backed Syria's rebels in the conflict, invited a newly formed opposition coalition to appoint an ambassador to the Gulf state, the Qatari news agency reported.

The broad coalition — called the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces — was formed Nov. 11 in Qatar under pressure from the United States for a stronger, more united opposition body to serve as a counterweight to the more extremist forces fighting Assad's regime.

The six-national oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Union's 27 foreign ministers recognized the Syrian coalition. Last week, France became the first Western nation to officially recognize the council. President Barack Obama said the U.S. isn't ready to recognize the group as a "government in exile" or to arm it.

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut and Albert Aji in Damascus contributed to this report.

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